In a recent survey by skyscanner.net, Miera iela, Riga, topped the list of the most hipster neighbourhoods in the world. Miera iela (or Peace Street) beat off competition from Williamsburg in New York, Kreuzberg in Berlin and Mission District in San Francisco. Here’s how it looks on the latvia.eu website:
I posted the survey on the Expat Eye Facebook page and got mixed reactions:
“Miera Iela is ok, but better than Kreuzberg?! No way! Miera needs more of an ethnic and social mix and better bars to get even close.”
“More hipster than Kreuzberg? I don’t think so… (but it’s nice that others do).”
“I want to move… NOW!”
I’d been down Miera Iela a bit on the 11 tram and I didn’t remember anything particularly remarkable about it. So, on Sunday afternoon I decided to take a stroll down that direction and check it out for myself. But first, having only a vague notion of what actually constitutes a hipster, I turned to my old friend, the Oxford Dictionary.
Hipster: A person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.
Hmm. Still a little unsure as to how a hipster differs from a pretentious wanker, off I went.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the best day for a little adventure:
1. It was around 8 degrees;
2. There was an Irish drizzle falling;
3. It was Sunday.
Still, I was in high spirits as I approached Miera iela and entered hipster heaven. My first reaction was ‘hmm’.
I carried on walking, looking in shop windows as I went. First up was a
‘how to look like a Latvian hooker’ lingerie shop.
It was a dull day, as I’ve mentioned, which didn’t really do much for the buildings, but there are some nice ones.
The problem with Riga is that for every pretty building you come across, there are another ten jaded old wrecks that look like they’re about to fall apart at any second. It pays to have a fertile imagination as you’re always looking at what could be, rather than what actually is.
At this point, I became aware that I hadn’t really seen anyone resembling my mental picture of a hipster, so I started to focus on the people around me.
I still wasn’t sure. They looked a bit ‘mainstream’ for my liking.
I kept walking and came to the Laima factory and museum. For those of you who don’t know, Laima is the most famous Latvian confectionery company.
The original factory is nothing much to look at, but the museum has recently been renovated – in fact, it’s only been open to the public since January. Good old EU funding strikes again…
By now, I was almost at the end of Miera and feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Luckily, a classic example of Latvian health and safety lifted my mood…
(Apologies to the Latvians for any distress caused by the mean old man hurting the innocent tree.)
Waiting for the metal cable to snap resulting in a chainsaw massacre gave me a bit of an appetite, so I started looking for a likely café. I liked the look of ‘Tea and Books’ because, well, I like tea and books. Unfortunately, even though the sign said 10am to 10pm, the door was locked. I fear they may have seen me lurking outside with my camera and sneakily turned the key.
Instead, I ended up in Dad, which turned out to be absolutely lovely – a light airy front room and a slightly more arty-farty back room, with an eclectic mix of furniture and paintings, and even a piano.
I walked up to the counter and eyed the cakes. Spying something that looked like a lemon meringue pie, I asked the girl in Latvian ‘Is that lemon?’ It might seem like a rather stupid question but I’ve had some unpleasant surprises with things that looked like lemon meringue pie in the past. She instantly switched to English, which I’ve given up fighting, and confirmed that it was. I took a seat in the comfiest armchair in the world and waited.
Even though I thought it was a little bit pricey at €5, the presentation was top-notch and the cake was to die for. I took out my book and tried to look hipster-ish as I wolfed it down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite fast enough. I’d been saving the orange slice as a sort of second dessert, but the waitress swooped in and took the plate away as soon as I’d finished the cake. Oh well.
One more test – the bathroom. I was relieved to see that it was not decorated in piss, as is the standard here. There were some rather strange adornments that took up half the available space though.
However, the ultimate surprise was waiting for me as I left. The waitress smiled at me. Actually smiled. With teeth. Amazing.
So how did I rate Miera iela? To be honest, I find it hard to see how it topped some of the other destinations on the list. Still, it’s an enjoyable enough stroll and I’m sure it’s a lot livelier in the summer.
I’m getting a bit suspicious though – so far Latvia’s bagged ‘Most Beautiful Country’, ‘Most Beautiful Women’ and ‘Most Hipster Neighbourhood’. Are Latvians the only ones who vote in these things??
You can see the full list of hipster neighbourhoods here.